Earlier this year I purchased Herman Bavinck’s magnum opus, 4-volume Reformed Dogmatics on a whim. I heard so many good things about it, but had virtually no familiarity with him and his writing. Needless to say, it is one of the true treasures of my library, and I look forward to learning from it continually as the years go on. When I heard Crossway was going to be releasing a volume on Herman Bavinck in their fantastic Theologians on the Christian Life series, I knew it was a book I needed to get my hands on.
Bavinck on the Christian Life is a brilliant introduction into the life and thought of Herman Bavinck, one of the nineteenth century’s foremost theologians. Hailing from the Dutch Reformed tradition, Bavinck was sandwiched between the timeline of men like Abraham Kuyper (his predecessor) and Louis Berkhof (his disciple). His stern, sharp look frequently seen in pictures is not misleading; author John Bolt calls Bavinck a “dedicated, determined, focused, no-nonsense man.” Bavinck was a man of many hats. He was a pastor, a theologian, a professor, even a statesman. But above all, as Bolt excellently demonstrates, Herman Bavinck was a disciple, and a disciple-maker. Bavinck’s approach to Christian discipleship is one of ordinary, faithful, and concentrated obedience.
After a brief biographical sketch examining the life of Bavinck, Bolt divides the book into three main categories: Foundations for Christian Living, the Shape of Christian Discipleship, and the Practice of Christian Discipleship. Bavinck was a systematician at heart, as the Dogmatics indicate, and he therefore had no issue speaking into the whole gamut of discipleship, from start to finish.
Starting with the foundations, Bolt explains the threefold building blocks for the Christian life – being created in God’s image (chapter 2), being given to God’s law for obedience (chapter 3), and being united to Christ (chapter 4). Above all, it is Bavinck’s understanding of union of Christ where we can find immense help. Bolt, through Bavinck, spends plenty of time discussing Christ as mediator and as divine accommodator. After reflecting on Bavinck’s understanding of union with Christ, Bolt has this to say:
“Let’s pause to underscore what a remarkable theological accomplishment Bavinck has achieved here. He has brought creation, redemption, and eschatology all into the doctrine of Christ without in any way blurring the distinction between nature and grace or sacrificing the gracious character and preeminence of Christ as our Redeemer.” (73)
In section 2, Bolt unpacks Bavinck’s treatment of the shape of following Jesus in our lives (chapter 5), and developing a Christian worldview (chapter 6). Here is where Bolt magnificently explains how “ordinary obedience” is oftentimes more appropriate than viewing discipleship as “heroic” or “radical.” Further, approaching our faith as worldview itself and vice versa is vital to proper understanding of Christian discipleship. Bavinck spends a lot of time demonstrating these ideas in the book.
Finally, in part 3, Bolt devotes multiple chapters to various facets of the Christian life and how we practice it day to day – through marriage and family (chapter 7), work and vocation (chapter 8), culture and education (chapter 9), and civil society (chapter 10). One chapter that particularly stuck out to me is chapter 8 on work and vocation. Bavinck says something profound here:
“The Calvinist…is not satisfied when he is personally reconciled with God and assured of His salvation. His work begins then in dead earnest, and he becomes a co-worker with God.”
Drawing this idea out further, we learn about the purpose behind our work, and the importance of disciples being in the non-ministry workplace. Though oftentimes Bavinck was speaking directly into current affairs and situations he was facing, it is incredible how well he speaks to some of our modern-day issues, such as the sanctity of marriage and engaging the culture.
At the end of the book, Bolt has brought us Bavinck’s first-ever published sermon, an exposition of 1 John 5:4b, centralized on the victory we have in true faith in Christ. It’s a wonderful cymbal crash to complete the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to be “one of the first” to hear these words from Bavinck.
Overall, Bavinck on the Christian Life is a book I would commend to you because of its rich, biblical understanding of the ins and outs of discipleship, and it is presented with unsurpassed clarity and ease of reading. After you read this one, read the Dogmatics and learn much from Herman Bavinck’s timeless words of wisdom.